The Happytime Murders was written by Todd Berger (as well as Dee Austin Robertson). The writing is superb. Over and over I heard things I wasn't expecting, instead of the cliches I've come to expect from movies. I laughed out loud--cackled and howled with laughter--many times. But the funny scenes were only one part of this film's achievement.
also the social politics dimension of a movie in which being a Puppet
in a majority "meat -sack" world is like being Black in America. It's
easy to dismiss this metaphor as heavy-handed in the film, but that
would be to overlook the richness of what Todd Berger shows us about
marginalization, prejudice, and systemic oppression, as the people with
skin and flesh abuse the people with felt and fluff.
Happytime Murders was directed by Brian Henson----whose parents were
THE Jim Henson and Jane Henson, the puppeteering couple who invented the
Muppets during their careers at Sesame Street.
Jim Henson was at the heart of Sesame Street's unique feel, its visual
idiom; it gave us the experience of seeing puppets behave as if they
have souls. A great work of art.
And then... as the
years went by, what began as a TV show for kids remained a TV show for
kids, onto which there was soon built a mighty brand, with vast
merchandising and global reach. To be clear: Sesame Workshop is a
wonderful institution, whose work has expanded to include creating
Muppets and storylines tuned specifically to the psychological needs of
children with various kinds of traumas, losses, and stressors. But
that's not the point.
The point is, Brian Henson's whole life has been lived in an environment saturated with the ethos of Sesame Street.
I suppose a lot of his life is always already coated with his father's
genius. Sesame St. is a children's show; its ethos always is, and
always must be, wholesome, innocent, and enchanted. The bowl of cereal
Brian Henson ate as a kid was paid for by his dad's art, the Muppets,
within Sesame Street. What would it be like to grow up inside that? And
to see, as you grow, the franchise/company/brand grow too, outpacing you
as it brings in millions of dollars year after year. How cloying it
must be, how fraught, and how frustrating: to be forever
surrounded by the culture of children's TV, especially in the form of
the celebrated artistic work-product of one's own Oedipal rival. Making
this film, The Happytime Murders, did for Brian Henson something like what making Wild Strawberries did for Ingmar Bergman:
a working-through of the film-maker's relationship to his own father.
In making this dirty film---it is trashy, violent (though bloodless!),
hardscrabble-noir---with its depictions of puppet semen and coroners
cleaning up puppets' murders, Brian Henson cleanses himself of the ethos
of Jim Henson's invented world. That ethos is great for kids. But for a
person trying to grow into being his own man (an individuated adult of
20 or 30 or 40, etc. ), the sweet-sweetness-world of Sesame Street must
feel like an endless overdose of sugar. In The Happytime Murders, sugar
is evil, a debilitating drug, like heroin.
taught that there are only two mature defenses available to the psyche:
humor, and sublimation. This film has lots of hilarious lines and
scenes. But the main course is the massive sublimation of envy,
competition, Oedipal aggression and resentment, filial love and
admiration for his father, and who knows what else. It gets transmuted
into an artwork that uses the father's unique kind of puppetry to tell a
completely different kind of story, diametrically opposed to the sunshine-and-rainbows world of kids' TV. That world must meet
children where they are, by providing an innocent little world, one with
sorrows and misfortunes, but without evil or death or sex. So here is
The Happytime Murders, full of sex and death and the evil of (prejudice
against puppets, yes, and) the villainess, who turns out to have been
motivated by unprocessed trauma, not just some arbitrary badness that
comes with being the bad guy in the story. I love this movie.
Note: All the psychological interpretations and claims I make in this movie review are purely speculative. Not only have I never had any contact with Mr. Henson, I haven't read a single interview with him, nor any reviews of The Happytime Murders.
Amy Westerfelt: The Reason COVID-19 and Climate Seem So Similar: Disinformation - The disinformation industry has deployed these strategies across multiple issues. *Illustration by Efflam Mercier.* by Amy Westerfelt, *Drilled News*, Apri...
3 months ago